Sisters of Charity attend international symposium

Awaiting the audience with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, left to right, were Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Mary Jane Schmitz, Elizabeth Skalicky, Katherine Franchett and Bernadette Helfert. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF LEAVENWORTH

by Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven

Leavenworth — Six Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth (SCLs) were among the 9,500 participants gathered in Rome Oct. 13-15 for the exhilarating experience of the International Vincentian Family Symposium, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Vincentian spirit/charism.

The SCLs included Sisters Janet Cashman, Ramacca, Sicily, Italy; Katherine Franchett, Ashland, Montana; Eileen Haynes, Leavenworth; Bernadette Helfert, Ashland; and Mary Jane Schmitz and Elizabeth Skalicky, Leavenworth.

In describing the gathering, Sister Janet said that from the opening moments, registrants were greeting one another and finding ways to communicate despite the many different languages spoken.

“It was being family,” she said.

Sister Eileen appreciated experiencing the passion for the Vincentian charism/spirit: serving those in need and wanting to develop and strengthen relationships around the world. She found the presentations and small group conversations thought-provoking and enlivening.

“Overall, we reflected on the anniversary year theme of ‘Welcoming the Stranger’ (refugees/migrants/homeless) whenever and wherever we can,” she said, “recognizing that we are called to be conscious of the stranger within ourselves before stepping out to serve.”

“The experience was awesome!” added Sister Mary Jane. The symposium in its entirety was special for her, along with the realization that “we are Vincentian, strong in our commitment, with strength in numbers, giving us the power to influence and to make a real difference.”

The Vincentian family includes religious congregations, charitable organizations and other groups that trace their roots and spirit to St. Vincent de Paul who lived and ministered in 17th-century France. The 400th anniversary marks life transformations that turned Vincent toward service of the poor.

The symposium presentation by a Vincentian priest and an architect resonated with several of the SCLs. They reminded participants of the need to honor traditions and to take action.

The fact that Pope Francis had a special audience for the Vincentian family — all 9,500 of them — was thrilling for Sister Bernadette.

“We were only five rows away from where his popemobile passed,” she said. “It was also exciting to see our own Sister Eileen shaking the hand of Pope Francis as projected on one of the large screens.”  

A spirit of great joy and enthusiasm during the symposium left a lasting impression with Sister Janet.

“From the opening prayer to the presentations, to the encounter with Pope Francis to the Mass that closed the symposium, this joy and enthusiasm was apparent,” she said.

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